As my wife, Allyson, and I strolled along Front Street in the
Old Town of Temecula in southern California, I expected gun slingers to start a shootout at any moment. We had entered the city from the south, driving under an attractive wrought-iron archway, which features stagecoaches and cowboys and proudly announces this place was established in 1859. Walking the streets was like a step back in time with hot, sun-baked buildings full of history and charm. Originally, the town supported a large cattle ranch. Surprisingly, Temecula remained a small, cowboy town off the beaten path, frozen in time all the way until the 1960s. But it was a typical wild-west town and during its heyday was known for saloons, drinking, and gunfights.
The great boom of California finally caught up with this sleepy backwater in the 1980s, and it started to grow. Soon after, the civic authorities had a vision, and implemented it. A major re-development program encouraged and subsidized new buildings to look old, and truly old buildings were revitalized. One developer bought old buildings from across the country and then re-built them here. Existing buildings placed ‘old’ facades in the front so they would look period western. Wooden sidewalks were installed. A marvelous Community Theater that seats 381 was built in the old style and incorporated the 1890s Mercantile Building. This major complex was placed in the center of Old Town, to anchor it, rather than letting it go to the suburbs. The old town has lots of ambiance, not to mention many funky shops, restaurants, and bars, and I was constantly torn between wanting to stop for refreshments and snapping photos. Ally kept a sharp lookout for shootouts and other re-enactments, which are regularly staged.
Although getting on in years, my favourite place was
Pennypickle’s Workshop, a wonderful, unique, first-in-America children’s museum. The museum is fitted out like the laboratory of Professor Phinneas Pennypickle, an inventor, time-traveller, adventurer and all-around eccentric. Children love him, the haphazard layout of the lab, and the hands-on involvement in various experiments. The museum is one of the most popular destinations in the Valley; Ally had to drag me away.
Even the civic center of Temecula, located only a block from Old Town, is attractive and visit worthy. Completed in 2011 in a modern, Spanish Mission style, the center features adobe walls, red tile roofs, a large tower, courtyards, and lovely gardens with a large central fountain.
The Pechanga tribe of Luiseño Natives has lived in the Temecula Valley for 10,000 years. Temecula is their word for “land where the sun shines through the mist.”
Pechanga Casino and Resort is the largest in the western U.S. with 11 restaurants, a golf course, and spa. Their lands encompass 5,500 acres, and the Pechanga Cultural Center is well worth a visit to learn of the culture and history that existed here long before the cowboys and cattle arrived. Sadly, Ally and I did not win big at the tables.
Although the dry, rolling hills around Temecula are a desert with mesquite and cactus, they actually support a thriving
wine industry of 43 wineries with another 40 planned. With its hot climate, the region, which is recognized as a full-fledged appellation, specializes in robust reds like Sangioveses, Merlots, and Cabernets. Ally and I rolled into Robert Renzoni Winery and while sipping a delightful Temperanillo, the server explained that a gap in the hills lets ocean breezes into the valley, creating a perfect microclimate for vines. The soil, which consists of decomposed granite, also is excellent for growing grapes. We lingered on the patio enjoying the heat of the day and, of course, several good vintages.
Later, we discovered that the Valley is also a hotbed of the amber fluid with eight
breweries including Aftershock, Black Market, Ironfire and Refuge and several brew pubs. I loved the names of the ales as much as their taste: Richter Raunch Smoke Ale, Invasion Imperial Red, Gunslinger Gold Ale, Dead on Arrival Double IPA, and more. We avoided driving and took a beer tour.
Next day we took Highway 79 east toward Palm Desert, a drive that winds through glorious desert with cactus and road runners. Suddenly we came across large wrought-iron sculptures. We were surprised, pleasantly, to see a handsome bucking stallion silhouetted against the sky, high on a ridge. Then a stagecoach with team of four horses and passengers appeared by the side of the road. These sculptures by the artist Ricardo Breceda made the days of the old west come alive.
We promised to return to this unforgettable valley of yesteryear, perhaps for the uplifting Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival.
Top 5 Things to Watch in Temecula in 2015
Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is an environmental consultant.